It was the summer of 1989 in Bodrum, a beautiful seaside resort on the
southwestern coast of Turkey, soaked in sun, history, and nightlife. I
was on vacation and it had been a long day. I had taken the bus from
Iraklion, where I had caught the second-worst case of food
poisoning I had ever had in my life, including two days in bed throwing up
with backbreaking pain. It was very hot that July night, and I could
not sleep. I had kept the windows open to try to stay cool. I tossed and
turned, still somewhat sick and sleepless--in and out of consciousness,
as my girlfriend slept in the room's other single bed. It was
just after three a.m. when I became aware of a stranger standing above
me. At that time I was teaching a class on criminal behavior, and I
would tell my students that when they became aware of an intruder in
their apartment, they should feign being asleep. Ninety percent of the
time thieves just wanted to grab the goods and then get out. Let them
go--then call 911. You run no risk and have a fighting chance of getting
your possessions back without a violent confrontation. So what did
I do when I saw the intruder at my bedside? I fought. In the milliseconds
that it took my visual cortex to interpret the shadowy figure and signal
this to the amygdala, which jump-starts the fight-flight response, I
leaped out of my bed. In little more than a second, I had instinctively
grabbed the intruder. I was on automatic pilot. Information from
the senses reaches the amygdala twice as fast as it gets to the frontal
lobe. So before my frontal cortex could rein back the amygdala's
aggressive response, I'd already made a threatening move toward
the burglar. This in turn immediately activated the intruder's
fight-flight system. Unfortunately for me, his instinct to fight also
kicked in. The next thing I knew I was being hit so quickly that
it felt like the man had four fists. He hit me so hard on the head that
I saw a streak of white light flash before my eyes. He also hit me in
the throat. He seemed to hit me all over. I was violently thrown
against the door. I felt the doorknob and I must confess the thought of
escape sprang into my mind. But at that instant I heard piercing screams
from my girlfriend, struggling with the man. She eventually ended up
with bruises on her arms, but I think these were defense wounds and
that the intruder only wanted to keep her quiet. Seeing them struggle,
the instinctive reaction that had originally come upon me when I was
in bed returned. I leaped at him again and somehow managed to push him
out of the open window. In that instant I felt an immediate sense
of safety and relief. But the euphoria evaporated after I turned on the
light switch and saw the blood running down my chest. I tried to shout
out, but what came out of my mouth was a hoarse whimper. Completely
unknown to me in the midst of that mismatched contest was that the
assailant had been holding a knife. Quite a long one, with a red handle
and a six-inch blade, it turned out. But I was lucky. As I warded off
his blows with my arms, the blade of the cheap knife had snapped off,
leaving only a few millimeters of metal left on the handle. So when
he attempted to cut my throat, the damage was far less than it might
have been. The police arrived surprisingly quickly. The hotel was
right beside an army barracks. There had been a sentry on duty who had
heard the shouts and screams and he raised the alarm. The hotel had been
quickly surrounded, so that when the police arrived they believed that
the perpetrator was still inside the hotel. Meanwhile I was taken to
the hospital. It was rudimentary and bare. I was laid on my back on what
felt like a hard concrete slab, while the doctor put a few stitches in my
throat. The window of the hospital room was open, and I could hear in the
distance that a party was still going on. The strains of the music wafted
through the window, the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night,"
of all songs. Afterward, the police wanted me back at the hotel to go
over what had happened. All the residents were now standing in the lobby,
even though it must have been about five a.m. by then. The police
had thoroughly gone through the rooms of all the residents in search of my
assailant. I learned later that one man had looked a bit flushed when the
police pulled him from his bed, and he had a red mark on his torso that
looked fresh. He was in the upstairs room right next to me. So he was one
of the two suspects waiting for me when I entered the lobby. Both
were young Turkish men. Both were naked from the waist up--just as the
attacker had been. One was quite a good-looking man, but otherwise
there was nothing out of the ordinary about him. The second suspect
had a rougher look. He was also stocky and muscular, and what flashed
through my mind at that moment was that he had the classic mesomorphic
physique that early criminologists believed typified criminals. He also
had a striking scar on his upper arm. His nose looked as if it had been
broken. His looks persuaded me. He had to be the man who'd tried
to cut my throat. The police pulled him aside and had a quiet word
with him. But not so quiet that the manager of the hotel couldn't
overhear and translate the conversation back to me. The police told him
they simply wanted to clear up the case, and if he'd admit that
he was the perpetrator, they would let him go. So the gullible guy made
his admission, and was promptly arrested. At that point, I'd
had enough of Bodrum and Turkey, and I told the police I was off to the
neighboring island of Kos in Greece in the next two days. Remarkably,
they decided to expedite the trial. It was something of a ceremony at
the outset. It started off at the police station. I was placed next to
my assailant, and we were marched through the center of the town, side
by side, to the courthouse. Quite a number of people came out to watch,
as I had been featured in Bodrum's local newspaper the previous
day, pictured with a prominent white bandage on my throat. Many of them
pointed at us and yelled at the defendant. Although whatever they said
was incomprehensible to me, it was clear that the defendant was not a
popular man. The trial itself was novel, to say the least. The
courtroom looked like a scene out of the Nuremberg trials, but in a
distorted dream. There was no jury at all. Instead, there were three
judges in scarlet robes seated loftily above us. The defendant did
not have an attorney. Neither did I, for that matter. Adding to the
strangeness, none of the judges could speak or understand any English,
and I certainly could not speak Turkish. So they procured a cook who
could speak some English and serve as my interpreter. It was all very
surreal. I gave my testimony. The judges asked me how I could
identify the assailant given that the incident had occurred just after
three a.m. and it had been dark. I described to them how the moonlight
was streaming through the window by my bed, illuminating one side of the
assailant's face as we struggled. That I had frantically wrestled
with him and that that gave me a sense of his stature and build. I said
that I could not be completely sure--but frankly, whether that part ever
got translated, I'll never know. After I gave my testimony
through the cook, the defendant gave his testimony. Whatever he said
in Turkish, the judges were not persuaded. They found him guilty as
charged. It was as simple as that. After the verdict one of the
judges ushered me and my translator over to the bench. He told us that
the defendant would be brought back later for sentenc